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Standard brain scans could predict cognitive decline in Parkinson’s

King’s College London researchers have developed a method that could predict which Parkinson’s patients will experience cognitive decline, before they show any symptoms of memory problems. The method uses widely available MRI scanning technology and could potentially be a cheap and easy-to-implement tool for doctors.

Parkinson’s disease is one of the most common neurodegenerative disorders affecting one in 500 people. During the course of the disease up to 80% of people with Parkinson’s disease develop cognitive decline, ranging from memory issues through to dementia. 


‘Currently, there is no reliable way to predict cognitive impairment in the disease.’ – Professor Marios Politis from King’s College London’s Institute of Psychiatry, Psychology & Neuroscience

Professor Marios Politis, Institute of Psychiatry, Psychology & Neuroscience, says ‘Cognitive impairment is a major issue for people with Parkinson’s and has tremendous consequences for patients, families and healthcare services.’

‘Currently, there is no reliable way to predict cognitive impairment in the disease.’

The researchers analysed MRI scans from over 300 individuals with Parkinson’s and noticed that a brain region called the nucleus basalis of Meynert had started to degenerate in patients before they began to show any symptoms of cognitive decline.

Understanding which people with Parkinson’s disease are going to experience cognitive decline would not only help doctors manage patients but may also enable clinical trials for preventative drugs.

‘When disease modifying drugs become available, patients can potentially be treated in the crucial time before the development of symptoms, prolonging their quality of life,’ says Professor Politis.

Further studies are now needed to confirm these findings before the method can be used by doctors for screening Parkinson’s patients.

This study is published in the journal Brain.